Black River, New Mexico

Campfire throwing shadows across my horse. Dog rolling in the hay – dirty of course. Ever searching for that last buried bone.

It’s early morning, the sun still asleep. We sit, listening to distant sounds of highway mixed with propane flames. Coffee brewing.

Color slowly unrolls to the east as I prepare to ride and move to Black River Recreation Area.

There is water in the desert. Surrounded by the rain of Cottonwood trees. The Guadalupe Mountains flank us to the west, Black River to the east. Now we ride this old dirt road along an anomaly. Just another mystery of the land we live in.

Black River, New Mexico

Deadwood and brush surround, and I’m hoping the dog spooks out any game before the horse does. A deer crosses ahead. His tracks lining the center of this road like they own the place. And perhaps he does.

But this area of New Mexico has been occupied for thousands of years. Life here began early, tucked in a hidden corner of the Chihuahuan Desert. Jornada Mogollon farmers, all the way up through Mescalero Apache, and now us.

In the early 2000’s, archaeologists inventoried the area around Black River and recorded over 900 burned rock features. Some of the earliest projectile points have been found here.

A hawk watches us pass, perched on the highest and lightest of branches. Surveying his domain.

Black River is a desert in disguise. A riparian landscape, with grasses, trees, and birds abounding.

An area once overgrazed, slowly restored to its natural state by the BLM in partnership with New Mexico. Removing brush plants and allowing natural grasses to return and thrive. And bringing the animals back with them.

Our ride short, my horse isn’t quite ready yet to return. We pass the trailer and make a short turn north up the river.

Surrounded by farmland, this area breathes of a simpler time. Local boys fishing. Wind drifting through Cottonwood trees.

Boys who look too young to drive yet jump in an old pickup truck at sunset to head home down the back lane. There is peace here.

This is Black River.

https://www.blm.gov/visit/black-river-recreation-area

For a more extensive day ride in the area, La Cueva Trail System covers approximately 2,200 acres with 15 miles of non-motorized and maintained trails. La Cueva is located about 30 miles north toward Carlsbad.

https://www.blm.gov/…/la-cueva-non-motorized-trail-system

Desert Treasure

Caballo Lake State Park, Caballo Mountains, New Mexico

The land here in southern New Mexico is harsh and gentle at the same time. You see this most clearly if you follow the Rio Grande north from Texas.

A ribbon of green snaking along the valley, flanked by desert mountains. Mountains which look soft from a distance – but in this we are fooled.

The Wild and Scenic Rio Grande

Caballo Lake State Park sits on a reservoir built in the 30’s, back when we decided to make this river our own. It is a popular park with a limited number of horse trails and nice covered pipe corrals. Most come here for the lake, but from across the river these mountains called me – Caballo (pronounced “ka-vhah-yoh”) – “horse” mountains.

Caballo Lake State Park

I scouted the route beforehand by truck, casing the joint you might say. Open range may be a thing of the past but here ranches and public land merge, and the views go on.

An old corral, loading chute and a long, lost horseshoe yield to weather and rock. I stop to say hello to the rancher.

Now, horse next to me… I stand outside the truck weaving my belt through its loops and holster. Looking across the mountains, sun warming my face. Breathing.

I travel down an old ranch road (a VERY old ranch road), thru valleys and across dry creek beds. It’s rained here recently and looking down I see fresh cat tracks on the trail. I am glad to have trusted my gut – I did not bring the dog along this time.

Riding without the distraction of others allows my mind to wander. Thoughts surface which otherwise might not. Sometimes self-doubt creeps in. I apologize to myself.

Caballo Mountain Trail, Bureau of Land Management

And in this, I learn from nature – who has no self-doubt. Nobody taught her to question. She isn’t focused on meeting expectations, on success or failure. She is only concerned with the journey… this is why I love her. This is what makes me want to be with her.

Many explore Caballo Mountains, searching for hidden Spanish treasure. But I think they are missing the point of this desert in New Mexico. For there is much more than just buried gold to chase here. These mountains give unto us, they make us better with their dignity and that is the real find.

As the Little Prince says, “it is only with the heart that one can see rightly…” And so my heart sees, my journey becomes more clear. I reflect, I grow and come out better – more authentic. Every. Single. Time.

To find this and other NM State Parks allowing horseback riding: http://www.emnrd.state.nm.us/SPD/horsebackriding.html

Footprints in the Sand: Horseback Riding White Sands National Park, New Mexico

Blinding white in all directions.  Footprints erased by wind.  Every route the same.

Driving south from Lincoln National Forest, New Mexico the land greets us with open arms.  Ranges and ranches go on for miles.  I can breathe.  I can see. 

The chaos of Alamogordo gives way to White Sands National Park, sitting pristine at the northern end of the Chihuahuan desert in the Tularosa Basin.  Shining clean and bright, like the full moon against dark skies.

Once a lake, the Tularosa Basin is now home to 275 square miles (176,000 acres) of beautiful, white gypsum dunes in the form of a national park.  Gypsum draining from the surrounding mountains, nowhere else to go but into the basin.  Turning this ancient lake into fields of white over thousands of years. 

But gypsum is really a clear substance, only appearing white as the grains collide and reflect the sun.  The air and sun bake, and unlike sand on a beach – the ground here remains cool.  Conflict and abrasion come out clean and beautifully blinding.

There are no horse trails at White Sands, so keeping direction in mind and park road to the right, I ride this sweeping face.  Each dune looking like the last. Weaving my way out and back again.  Cell phone overheating in my pocket.  Polarized sunglasses glued to my face, threatening blindness with each slip and readjustment.

A seemingly endless stream of waves.  However, blank slate this is not. 

Once a lake the size of Rhode Island, the Tularosa Basin looked very different 12,000 years ago.  Lush, green landscapes flushed with life, including mammoths, giant sloths, ancient camels, dire wolves, and saber-toothed cats.  White Sands contains the largest collection of ice age fossilized footprints in the world, including the longest fossilized human trackway.

Spectral signs of the past.  Almost a mile of an out and return journey.  Disappearing then reappearing, as the landscape alters.  Hidden under layers of sand.  Unrevealed to the casual observer. 

Crossing this bleached ocean, I am reminded of my vulnerability… of what matters.  Drama has no place here.  The air can be dangerous, the sun merciless.  Death quick when water runs low and heat is high. 

But a different type of beauty lives among these dunes, a private affair between white sheets of gypsum and ancient lives.  A secret between the two. Unknown, but always present, just beneath the surface.

For information on day rides at White Sands National Park:  https://www.nps.gov/whsa/planyourvisit/horses-and-other-pack-animals.htm

https://www.nps.gov/whsa/learn/news/nr100920.htm

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